Opinion: Pay trustees and they might feel valued

What qualities do you need to be a good charity trustee? A glance at the newly updated Charity Commission guidance in its The Essential Trustee publication might suggest that in tackling accounts, strategies, risk, investments and much, much more, sainthood is essential.

That thousands of ordinary people are effective trustees is a tribute to their altruism and commitment. The commission admits this, saying: "Trustees are the backbone of any charity, yet many charities tell us they have problems getting new trustees and keeping them once they've got them."

Given recent condemnation of word-of-mouth recruitment for its failure to expand trustee diversity, perhaps technology can help find more people by allowing meetings via conference calls or web-cam discussions. Or could charities prompt staff to become trustees elsewhere?

In partnership with the Home Office-funded TimeBank, the commission's response to the trustee shortage is launching the Get on Board campaign later this month to encourage new trustees, especially the under-represented under-40s and minorities, to check out trustee vacancies on the do-it.org.uk volunteering site.

Coincidentally, the governance hub funded by the Home Office ChangeUp capacity building network for the voluntary sector is planning a trustee recruitment web portal. Left hand, right hand?

As with many government-funded initiatives, ChangeUp needs a board to offer leadership and guidance. Unlike trustees, these will be paid what few charities can afford for even top staff: £18,000 for up to 60 days a year for the chair (equivalent to £72,000 full time) and £10,000 (equivalent to £60,000 full time) for up to 40 days for board members.

Whether it intends to or not, the Government reveals that it sees cold hard cash as the best way to attract the right trustees, yet charities cannot currently pay trustees anything beyond expenses.

Of course, ChangeUp board members will have rather fewer worries about risk and liabilities, fundraising and investments, recruitment and management, land and property, advocacy and campaigning, or indeed much else that makes the charity trustee's job so complex and stressful.

Perhaps ChangeUp and its governance hub's first task should be to advise the Home Office: "Change the law to let charities pay trustees or risk them feeling like undervalued second-class citizens."

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